MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Capturing its first-ever win over a top 25 opponent, the West Virginia volleyball team topped No. 14 Kansas in a five-set thriller on Saturday afternoon at the Horejsi Family Athletics Center in Lawrence, Kansas.
WVU moved to 18-12 on the season by winning in set scores of 20-25, 25-19, 20-25, 25-22 and 15-12 over the Jayhawks (22-7, 11-5) in the regular-season finale.
With today's win, the Mountaineers have won 18 matches in a season for the first time since a 20-13 season in 2013. Third-year coach Reed Sunahara has also earned his highest win total as head coach of the Mountaineers. WVU finished with a 6-10 Big 12 Conference record, matching its six-win total from 2014.
"It was a great week for us," Sunahara said. "Kansas is a top 15 team, and it was a great test for us to overcome adversity. I'm so proud of the way we battled. They just never gave up. It was unbelievable. To have the seniors go out with a win like today, I couldn't have asked for anything better."
Sophomore outside hitter Payton Caffrey led the offense once again, hitting .308 with a season-best 28 kills to go along with 13 digs and three service aces. Sophomore right side hitter Natania Levak finished the match with 11 kills, while senior middle block Mia Swanegan added nine for a .250 hitting efficiency.
Three Mountaineers also finished the match with double-figure digs, as senior libero Gianna Gotterba, freshman defensive specialist Alexa Hasting and Caffrey notched 13 digs apiece. Senior setter Emma Anderson dished out a career-high 47 assists, while Swanegan led WVU's blocking efforts with four.
West Virginia, who is now 4-2 in five-set matches this season, hit .240 with 62 kills and 7.5 team blocks. Led by Kelsie Payne's 17 kills, Kansas hit .314 with 13 team blocks and 72 kills.
An early 6-0 run by West Virginia put Kansas in a 10-6 hole, but the Jayhawks quickly recovered to take the first-set victory, 25-20. KU notched three straight points following back-to-back kills and a WVU ball handling error to tie the set at 11-all. From there, the Mountaineers used a 3-0 scoring streak of their own to regain the lead at 14-11 before the Jayhawks captured six of the next seven points for the 17-15 advantage. Back-to-back Kansas kills forced West Virginia to take a timeout at 19-17. Caffrey followed by putting one through the pins to bring the Mountaineers within one at 19-18. However, Kansas capitalized on three Mountaineer attacking errors in the final six points for the 1-0 match lead.
The Mountaineers improved in the second set, hitting .314 to pick up the 25-19 victory. After playing to seven ties, West Virginia capitalized on a KU miscue and a kill from Levak for a 16-14 lead. The Mountaineers then used a four-point scoring streak to take a 20-15 advantage and never looked back. A Caffrey kill brought the Mountaineers to set point at 24-18 before a kill from Payne extended the set. However, Caffrey found the floor once again, as WVU won the set, 25-19, to tie the match at 1-1.
WVU jumped out to an early 5-1 lead in set three, but the Jayhawks came back with a 6-0 run of their own to take a 7-5 advantage. The Mountaineers then answered with five straight points to regain the lead at 12-8. A late 3-0 run from the Jayhawks forced a WVU timeout, down 18-16. Caffrey added a kill before Kansas threw down a pair of kills for a 20-17 advantage. A kill from Caffrey and Levak brought the Mountaineers within two, down 22-20, but the Jayhawks rattled off three straight points to close out the frame, winning the third set by a score of 25-20.
Back-to-back-to-back kills from the Mountaineers gave WVU a 10-6 advantage in the fourth set. However, the Jayhawks used a pair of scoring streaks to gain a 15-13 lead midway through. Both squads continued to exchange points before the Mountaineers tied the set at 22-22 with a kill from Levak. From there, West Virginia took advantage of back-to-back KU attacking errors, bringing WVU to set point. Sophomore outside hitter Katelyn Evans then laid down a kill, as the Mountaineers picked up the 25-22 win to tie the match at 2-2.
Down 9-8 in the fifth set, West Virginia took a timeout. Swanegan and Caffrey came up with big swings out of the stoppage, as the Mountaineers went on a 3-0 run to take an 11-9 lead over the Jayhawks. Kansas continued to put up a fight though, capitalizing on a Mountaineer attacking error to tie the set at 12-all. However, three straight kills from the Mountaineers, including two from Caffrey, gave WVU the 15-12 fifth-set win and the 3-2 victory in the contest.
Of note, the Mountaineers have now won three of their last four matches in Big 12 play.
West Virginia will await its postseason fate, as the Mountaineers' NCAA tournament hopes are still alive thanks to clinching a winning record. The NCAA Division I selection show will air on Sunday, Nov. 26, at 9 p.m. ET.